Yesterday the Federal Parliament passed legislation to ‘excise’ the Australian mainland as a migration zone. This means asylum seekers arriving by boat will be denied the right to asylum in Australia. They will not be eligible to apply for any visa and will be subject to the ‘no advantage’ test, which means they will have no speedier granting of asylum here than if they were applying from anywhere else in the world. This will see them languishing in a detention centre for years.
Tony Abbot compounded the inhumanity by declaring that, should it win government, the Coalition will slash the number of refugees we accept .
These are crushing blows to people fleeing for their lives from their home country. They come on top of the recent moves to reopen detention on Nauru and Manus island and to start releasing people into the community while their claim is assessed. Only problem is, those released into the community don’t have the right to work nor to access anything but limited welfare payments. So they’re pretty much consigned to poverty and dependence on family or charities.
Oh, and we’re still locking up children – over 1000 as at Feb 23.
Welcome to Australia.
The principle behind the Government’s policy is that if we make life tough enough for asylum seekers they won’t get on boats and come here. Not only is this cruel – we’re talking about actions that punish and further traumatise already traumatised people who have committed no crime – but it’s not working. Asylum seekers continue to come.
For goodness sake, where is a leader like Malcolm Fraser, who stood up to the fearmongers and bigots when the waves of Vietnamese boat people started arriving and called on us to own up to the obligations of being global citizens?
It’s time we accepted this obligation once more. The world has a refugee crisis and we need to be part of the solution. Thanks to our remoteness we have very few asylum seekers coming our way. According to the Department of Immigration, as at Feb 23 we had less than 8,000 people in detention or community release. That’s a ridiculously small number when compared with other countries.
A better way forward? Increase our refugee intake to 30,000-40,000 per year, work with nearby countries to bring refugees and asylum seekers here safely, decouple offshore and onshore numbers (ie we accept x number of offshore applications regardless of how many refugees show up on our doorstep), release asylum seekers into the community after health checks and with the right to work. With a high likelihood of reasonably fast resettlement in Australia the number willing to risk a dangerous boat journey should decline. Will it work? No one knows for sure, but given the policy of cruel and inhumane treatment isn’t working, it can’t hurt for us to try decency.